In Arkansas, as in most states, marriage is a civil contract that must you must enter into voluntarily with another person. You have to procure a marriage license in order to enter into a marriage contract. This page will guide you through the application, issuance, solemnization, and recording phases of the marriage licensing process.
Marriage licenses are circulated out of Arkansas' 84 county clerk offices. Yes, there are only 75 counties, but over half a dozen of the most populous counties have opened multiple offices to help ease the burden on the general population and county officials.
It doesn't matter which county you apply in: your issued license will be good anywhere within the state, and only within this state.
And you can only use a marriage license from Arkansas within Arkansas. Although fundamental licensing rules are instinctively known by most people (e.g., you need a license, there's a fee, minors need consent), there are still individuals that will mistakenly purchase an out-of-state license, then try and fail to use it in Arkansas, or vice versa. It's a sad spectacle based on bad assumptions.
You must both submit your application in person, together; a power of attorney or absentee affidavit will not be accepted under any circumstance.
Top boss and underlings
When you apply, you'll be dealing with the county clerk, who is the head honcho in the office. Their official title is "clerk of the county courts," but no one really uses that designation outside of legalese and written law. They refer to themselves as "county clerks" or "clerks" for short.
On occasion, you'll do business with a deputy clerk instead of their superior. It makes no difference, as deputies are fully authorized licensing officers.
Notice of intention to wed
The marriage license application is fairly self-explanatory. The main section, where you supply your name, age, address, and signature, is referred to as a "notice of intention to wed." The clerk copies over the information you enter here onto your issued license. Clerks are allowed to destroy the notice of intention to wed after holding onto it for a year.
Social security number
Your social security number is, rightfully, a sensitive thing to be asked, but it is mandatory. It's been asked of all applicants since July 1, 1997. If you don't have a social security number, then that's not a problem; the clerk will make note of your non-number on the application.
Child support enforcement
The clerk doesn't have any use for your social security number directly; it's requested on behalf of the state's Division of Vital Records. Vital records will only release your number to the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) that's part of the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA).
If you are delinquent in child support, it won't stop you from getting a marriage license; it also wouldn't invalidate your upcoming marriage. OCSE will eventually come after you though.
Your issued marriage license will be a single sheet of paper that's comprised of three distinct parts:
Part 1: marriage license
The "marriage license" portion, located at the top, states your names and ages, clerk's signature, and date of issuance. The wording actually "commands" your officiant to solemnize your marriage.
Part 2: certificate of marriage
The middle "certificate of marriage" section will be blank and is meant to be filled out by your officiant during the endorsement phase of your marriage ceremony.
Part 3: certificate of record
The final "certificate of record" section will be filled out by the clerk after it's been returned by your officiant for recording.
An Arkansas marriage license will cost you somewhere between $55 and $60. Ninety-five percent of county clerk offices charge $60, so just bring that amount and you'll be fine.
Every office accepts cash, while others may take alternative payment methods. Consult the list of counties, therein each office's accepted payment types are listed, including surcharges.
Arkansas marriage license age requirements are determined by age and gender.
If you're at least 18 years old, you can marry without obtaining parental consent.
Males who are 17 years old can marry with parental consent. Males 16 years old and below cannot marry, except for a pregnancy or childbirth exception.
Females who are 16 or 17 years old can marry with parental consent. Females 15 years old and below cannot marry, unless there's a pregnancy or birth of a child involved.
You must obtain consent to marry from a guardian or both parents. Consent must be given in person, in the presence of the county clerk.
If you have no guardian, your parents are divorced, and one parent has primary custody of you, then obtain consent from your custodial parent. A custodial parent must demonstrate legal custody by presenting court papers.
For intrepid youngsters pursing marriage with fake age credentials or bogus actors posing as parents, your successful marriage will be susceptible to an equally successful annulment action initiated by your real parent or guardian in the circuit court.
Pregnancy or childbirth exception
If you're a minor and pregnant, or have given birth, the age restrictions don't apply to you. If you're a minor and your would-be spouse is pregnant, or has given birth, the age restrictions don't apply to you either. Parental consent is still necessary though.
You'll have to assert your pregnancy or childbirth claim within a circuit court that's located in the same county where you intend to submit your marriage license application. This means you must obtain court authorization to marry before applying for a license.
The judge will need to see an original or certified copy of your birth certificate; that goes for your future spouse as well, even if he or she is an adult.
If you're pregnant, provide proof by way of a certified statement from a licensed non-retired physician. If you've already given birth, evidence of childbirth not required.
If the judge finds it to be in your best interest to marry, they'll provide you a written order that instructs the county clerk to issue you a marriage license. Present that order to the clerk to get your license.
Adults have it easy, while minors have to put in work to prove their age.
If you're a grown-up, any government-issued photo ID will be fine, such as a driver's license, military identification card, state-issued identification card, passport (foreign or domestic), visa, or green card.
If you're underage, you'll need to provide a suite of identifications in order to satisfy clerk. Bring a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license; your social security card; and your birth certificate, original or certified copy only.
Social security card
Truth be told, the social security card is not something that every county clerk office requests. State law permits clerks to demand whatever identification they deem necessary, therefore you are at the mercy of the clerk.
Bottom line, most clerks will want to see your physical social security card instead of you reciting the number from memory. If you can't find it, the clerk will take into account the sum of all available evidence to determine if it's reasonable to waive the requirement.
If satisfactory evidence of age isn't presented to the clerk or the clerk doubts the veracity of your stated age, you may be required to present an original or certified copy of your birth certificate, or your parents may have to attest to your age, or you may be required to submit an affidavit attesting to your age.
One of the worst things a clerk can do is issue a marriage license to someone who's underage without fulfilling the necessary identification or consent requirements. Not only is it a bad mark on their reputation, it's also a misdemeanor offence punishable by a $100–500 fine, upon conviction.
If you're an adult, you'll be issued a marriage license immediately. You can then marry immediately.
If you're a minor, you'll have to wait five business days before your license is issued. This wait doesn't apply if you qualify for the pregnancy or childbirth exception.
Your marriage license will expire 60 days after it's been issued.
License must be returned
You must return your unused and expired license to the county clerk. Failure to do so will result in a $100 bond being executed against you and the other applicant. You can also get thumped by this penalty if your officiant fails to return your license on time.
You are not required to get a blood test, physical exam, or health certificate in order to secure a marriage license.
Arkansas' consanguineous prohibitions mirror that of most states, where marriage between kinship closer than second cousins is expressly forbidden. Marriage among any of the following family members is considered incestuous and void:
- Sibling (half or whole blood)
- First cousin
It's a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment, for you to enter into an incestuous marriage or for someone to knowingly solemnize such a marriage.
If you're currently married, you can't marry someone else until you divorce your existing spouse. Doing otherwise would be bigamous and the subsequent marriage would be void.
Remarriage during a legal separation is still bigamy; remarriage during the final phase of divorce proceedings is still bigamy; your prior marriage must be fully dissolved and decreed final in a court of law.
Spouse presumed dead
The sole exception to remarriage without a finalized divorce is if your spouse has abandoned you for five consecutive years, lives beyond the state's borders, and you have no idea if they're alive or dead.
A successive marriage that takes place under these conditions would not run afoul of the state's prohibition on bigamy, as your prior spouse would effectively be considered dead.
If you were to remarry and your presumed dead spouse was to suddenly resurface, or whereabouts discovered, it wouldn't invalidate your follow-up marriage.
Solemnization is the act of getting married, the performing of a marriage, or presiding over of a marriage. It's the core part of your ceremony where you're exchanging vows. The person who "performs" or "presides over" your ceremony is called the officiant.
Before your officiant can get down to business, you'll need to present them your marriage license; it must be unexpired and it must originate from Arkansas.
When you're issued a license to marry you'll notice the language is directed, not to you, but to your officiant: you're just the relay.
The license is not much more than an official communiqué to whoever solemnizes, giving that person permission to get on with it, document what took place on the license, and to return it to the clerk soon thereafter.
The state has established the following well defined list of officials who may solemnize your marriage:
You can be married by the current governor or mayor of any city or town in this state.
You can be married by any ordained minister or priest belonging to any religious denomination or sect, as long as they're in regular practice and remain in good standing.
Credentials must be recorded
Ministers or priests must have their credentials or license registered with any county clerk office in state in order to legally solemnize marriages anywhere in the state. You may ask to view their county clerk issued certificate of recordation in order to verify their bona fides.
The county where their credentials are recorded must be specified on the "certificate of marriage" section of your license during the endorsement stage of your ceremony.
A wide swath of Arkansas-based judges and judicial-like figures are authorized to solemnize your marriage, including active judges of a court of record, including former judges that have served at least four years; elected district court judges, including former district and municipal judges that have served at least four years; justices of the peace, including former justices who have served at least two years; officials designated by a county's quorum court; and former Supreme Court justices.
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, is authorized to solemnize marriage in whichever form that comports with their traditions. The clerk of the congregation typically serves as the officiant, but they may assign that role to a designee.
Quakers, unlike ministers and priests, are not required to register their credentials with any county clerk office.
You are not required to have witnesses attend your ceremony, nor sign your marriage license following the conclusion of your ceremony.
Once your ceremony is done, your officiant must fill out the "certificate of marriage" portion of the marriage license. They must enter their name, title, signature, and date.
Ordained ministers and priests must also enter the county where their license or credentials are recorded, as well as the date it was registered.
Sending back the license
Once the license has been endorsed, it must be sent back to the clerk's office from which it came so that it may be recorded. It must be returned within 60 days after the license has been issued.
Strict return window
This 60-day return window is quite strict. Most states stipulate the return window to begin after solemnization, but Arkansas starts the countdown on the day of issuance. In effect, your license must be returned before it expires, so if you get married on the day of expiration it must be dispatched to the clerk the same day.
Failure to return
What makes the return process especially peculiar is that you are required to carry out the return, not the officiant. Your officiant may be willing to do it on your behalf, but the legal responsibility is yours alone.
The consequence for not returning the marriage license in time—used or even unused—is a $100 bond carried out against you and your spouse.
Once your endorsed marriage license has been returned to the clerk who issued it, it will be recorded in a marriage book that's stored in office.
The "certificate of record" portion of the license will be filled out, documenting you and your spouse's name, the date of recording, the page number of the marriage book where it's logged, and the clerk's signature. Afterward, the county seal will be applied. At this point, your marriage has been officially registered by the state.
Fixing clerical errors
If there's an error on any aspect of your recorded marriage license, you can get it corrected by submitting proof to the circuit court. If the court agrees with your allegation, they'll order the clerk to fix the errors. Win or lose, you won't be charged a fee for this process.
Once your marriage has been recorded, you can order certified copies of your marriage license, also referred to as your marriage certificate, from the county clerk.
Certified copies can also be obtained from the state's division of vital records, although the clerk's office will have it sooner as vital records must wait until the clerk dispatches them a copy, which typically takes place no later than the thirteenth of the following calendar month.
Name change after marriage
Obtaining a certified copy of your marriage record/certificate is critical if you plan to change your name after marriage. This document is evidence of marriage that would be accepted in any court in this state.
When you go to the Social Security Administration to update your social security card, the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) to update your driver's license, or regional passport offices to update your passport, the certificate is what they'll need to see to change your name.
Recognition of a non-Arkansas marriage depends on whether or not it was established in the U.S.
Another state or territory
If you were to marry in another U.S. state or territory, it would be recognized as valid as long as that marriage could have legally taken place in Arkansas. In other words, getting married in another state in order to bypass this state's marriage provisions is frowned upon and likely to result in a non-recognized marriage.
If you were to marry in another country, that marriage would be recognized as valid by default as long as the country where it was established recognized it as valid.
So, now you know quite a bit goes into the marriage license process. From application to recording, it's a whirlwind process that involves many people with many responsibilities.
Now that you have the information, it's time to figure out where to go. As mentioned at the outset, you can apply in any county and marry in any county. Below is a listing of every county in Arkansas, containing exact prices, locations, and methods of contact. Good luck on the next step of your marriage journey.